I’m attempting to write this without spoilers. If you haven’t seen the now Emmy award-winning Fleabag, you may need to see it. I don’t know. You do need to know it’s awkward. It’s not the sort of series I’d recommend to my mother (sex, nudity, adult language warning inserted here), but there is something about this show that continues to poke at me.
The protagonist (played brilliantly by creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge) is a woman with absolutely NO filters trying to cope after significant loss. Her life choices are… interesting (see adult content warning above). Here is a woman whose name we never learn (Fleabag) and yet we’re invited into her thoughts and deepest memories as she breaks the fourth wall – sharing those thoughts with the audience. She creates chaos and drama wherever she goes, and the spotlight follows her.
She demands to be seen.
When a character (and what a character!) in the second season actually SEES her, she disassembles a bit, but eventually finds some semblance of peace. The final scene at the bus stop, where she turns to walk away? That final gesture? It gives me such hope.
Here’s why this series continues to poke at my thoughts: consider the many ways in which Jesus really saw those with whom he interacted – the woman at the well, Mary and Martha, the Thief on the Cross and those who were blind, lame or possessed. Jesus saw them. He didn’t casually look past them, or mumble a question about the wife and the kids. He saw them for who they were, and in that seeing, there was healing.
I believe that one of our roles as the church is to SEE people. It’s also the reason I sometimes find visits to churches frustrating. I’m greeted (maybe?) but not actually seen. Once folks figure out my place (Hello, I’m your new Resource Presbyter!) there’s a subtle change in stance because I’m now a known quantity. My professional self is SEEN. One of our deepest failures as the church is to not see as Jesus did. We know there are others in the pews, some of them lifelong members, who have never truly been seen by another member of that church, and we rationalize that they are okay with this reality. Heck, many of those who are unseen may believe that as well.
It’s difficult work, this seeing. It requires vulnerability on the part of the person with the eyes. Seeing another means knowing that persons pain and fear as well as their joy. It requires time and patience (and sometimes, a bit of stubbornness). For the person being seen it requires vulnerability fortified with trust.
If it were easy, the world would be a kinder place. To really see someone is to begin to love someone.
As I continue to learn my role in this new place and new position, I believe some of what I am called to do is to SEE congregations. We so easily applaud that which is easily seen – mission trips and great worship (those physical manifestations that are easy on the eyes) – but just like individuals, I believe entire congregations can also feel unseen and forgotten. I have no doubt that some congregations prefer being unseen… but I also have no doubt that that is not our calling as a connectional Church.
In Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth he writes: “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”
Fleabag, in the end was fully known… and my prayer for her is that she shall also know fully the ability to love and be loved. It’s my prayer for all of us really, individuals and congregations.
For my part? I see you, church. Or, at least, I’m trying.